Functional Flexibility Activities for Older Adults

By Lori Peppi Michiel, NASM, Certified Personal Trainer

For aging adults who have been inactive for six months or more and now are considering becoming active again or are post rehab, might want to consider flexibility training. It is a great way to start towards a healthier lifestyle if going forward from a de-conditioned state. This type of training may lack the high profile of cardiovascular exercise and strength training, but it can improve range of motion, decrease pain and soreness after exercise, improve posture and decrease muscle tension.  More importantly, stretching can make the difference in comfort when performing tasks such as putting a shirt or blouse on in the morning, reaching for a cup of tea or coffee or turning ones head when driving to be sure the coast is clear, etc.

Consider that most research studies suggest combining flexibility training with other activities such as balance, core, muscular endurance and (resistance training) into their workouts, along with some form of cardiovascular exercise. They all play an important roll in function.

Experts suggest that a flexibility program should begin with a total of eight to ten stretches different stretches for both the upper and lower body.  Although this program might focus on muscles prone to tightness, such as hamstrings (back of thighs), it should concentrate on your individual physical requirements as determined by a physical assessment by a trained professional.

Since it is not uncommon for older adults to have limited mobility (range of motion) due to arthritis, past injury or general inactivity, it is wise to go slowly and stretch carefully to increase range of movement.

Stretches should either include a “static” style where you hold a position for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat twice or “active” stretch where you hold for 5 seconds and repeated approximately 4 or 5 times, just remember not to bounce. Whether you prefer one style over another, you should stretch to the point of slight discomfort, while continuing to breathe normally. For best results, stretch a minimum of three days a week utilizing both upper and lower body movements. And do not forget warm-up first with some type of cardiovascular exercise (walking, treadmill, marching in place) as “cold’ muscles are much stiffer and harder to stretch than “warm” muscles and could result in injury.

As an essential part of everyday life, from driving to dressing, cleaning to gardening, lack of flexibility can limit a person’s lifestyle. Stretching will surely complement and activity program and add to your functional fitness, helping you stay agile and independent as long as possible at any age, improving your general health safely and effectively.

For more information about specific programs, contact Lori P. Michiel, NASM, CPT professional personal fitness trainer specializing in working with active adults and seniors. Lori is available for private sessions, Fitness by Phone® Coaching, Seniorcize fitness classes, Boot Camp LITE, Employee Well-FitNess and more. Call 818-620-1442 or visit


American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) “Position Stand: Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults.”  1998; 30(6):992-1007

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